Are plant populations seed limited? A critique and meta-analysis of seed addition experiments.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

We examine the relative importance of processes that underlie plant population abundance and distribution. Two opposing views dominate the field. One posits that the ability to establish at a site is determined by the availability of suitable microsites (establishment limitation), while the second asserts that recruitment is limited by the availability of seeds (seed limitation). An underlying problem is that establishment and seed limitation are typically viewed as mutually exclusive. We conducted a meta-analysis of seed addition experiments to assess the relative strength of establishment and seed limitation to seedling recruitment. We asked (1) To what degree are populations seed and establishment limited? (2) Under what conditions (e.g., habitats and life-history traits) are species more or less limited by each? (3) How can seed addition studies be better designed to enhance our understanding of plant recruitment? We found that, in keeping with previous studies, most species are seed limited. However, the effects of seed addition are typically small, and most added seeds fail to recruit to the seedling stage. As a result, establishment limitation is stronger than seed limitation. Seed limitation was greater for large-seeded species, species in disturbed microsites, and species with relatively short-lived seed banks. Most seed addition experiments cannot assess the relationship between number of seeds added and number of subsequent recruits. This shortcoming can be overcome by increasing the number and range of seed addition treatments.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Clark, CJ; Poulsen, JR; Levey, DJ; Osenberg, CW

Published Date

  • July 2007

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 170 / 1

Start / End Page

  • 128 - 142

PubMed ID

  • 17853997

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1537-5323

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0003-0147

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1086/518565


  • eng